Hannah James is the outdoor adventurer and explorer taking on lakes, mountains and rolling hills and documenting it all on her blog, Hannah Outside. But 18 months ago, the outdoor enthusiast decided to take on a new challenge - going plastic free.
So to celebrate Plastic Free July, we caught up with her to find out how she got on with her latest adventure, what the past 18 months have taught her and her tips for plastic free newbies.
You went plastic free 18 months ago, what was the initial trigger that made you take the plunge?
It was a few things really that just all came about at the same time.
We'd just been to Sainsbury’s and hit it pretty good with catching the reduced section at the right time, so ended up with a food haul full of salmon and chicken.
Once home, I set about taking it out of the packaging, to put it into more freezer friendly packaging and I remember standing there looking at that huge pile of packaging waste thinking how ridiculously wasteful it was. I felt super guilty for creating all this waste, which was exacerbated by the fact that my recycling bin was already full to bursting. We'd missed the recycling lorry (which only comes around every two weeks) and so my kitchen was just over flowing with 2l water bottles (I had a slightly fizzy water addiction, which started when I lived in Peterborough where the water's not so nice. I had no excuse for it now we'd moved to Yorkshire). I remember standing there not really knowing what to do with it all.
Earlier that day I'd also come across Justin Hofman's photograph of the little seahorse clutching onto a cotton bud. I found this photograph so striking and I just couldn't get it out of my head. That was when I started to realise what an impact this waste would have on the world - what business did a household item like that have in the sea?
The more we looked into it, the guiltier we felt, so just like that, we decided to make more conscious decisions to help reduce our household waste.
What were the early challenges you faced, which could catch out others who are also starting this journey?
The early challenges were definitely getting into a routine and finding out where we could get stuff. There are more and more shops cropping up online and it took us a little while to figure out which local shops sold what.
One thing to be careful of is that there are many things that you can do without. Marketing is pulling everyone in to buying this or that to replace plastic with, which kind of goes against what you’re trying to do here with reducing plastic waste. For example, tupperware - if you already have plastic tubs don't ditch them for some new shiny metal or glass ones - they'll have their own environmental cost so just keep using your plastic ones until they break.
Once we figured that out then the biggest challenge was money - it forces you to be more careful and think about where your money is going.
How have you transitioned into this way of life? What’s it like for you living plastic free 18 months on? What have you learnt from this experience?
We managed it pretty easily. We're fortunate that we live in a pretty ideal place for it. We can walk to a couple of supermarkets and have the town centre with a baker and butcher. We found a local deli for loose leaf tea, coffee and oil.
I think the key is managing your time and preparing meals so you don't end up buying a quick fix lunch in plastic packaging.
What have we learnt?
Well, mainly not to be too harsh on yourself if you slip up. It's easy to be pulled down the rabbit hole with this kind of stuff - trying to be as good as you possibly can be - but you need to remember balance.
Going plastic free is great but it's not always 100% possible and it's far from the whole picture in terms of looking after the environment. Not all plastics were created equal. Replacing one single use item with another (eg, paper bag) is not great, so think re-usable. It’s so complicated - organic cotton, as well as paper bags, are so damaging to create as the process to make them is very intensive. In contrast, a plastic re-usable tub or coffee cup can be reused indefinitely. So, pick your battles.
There are others things to focus on, such as reducing your carbon footprint (this includes the food you eat). It really is picking your battles and creating a balance that you’re comfortable with. For example you could stop using single use plastic but if you’re an avid high street or online shopper, you’re still doing huge damage. Love avocados and almonds? Have a look into how water intensive they are to grow and then the impact of flying them across the planet. Compare that to slipping up and needing to buy one thing in plastic, or needing a shopping bag…
I’ve gone on a slight tangent there but my point is - do what you can with reducing your plastic but remember that there’s a much bigger picture out there to consider too.
If you could start again from the beginning, what would you change now you’ve been through the process?
I'm pretty happy with how we've managed quite honestly but one thing I would say is avoid getting sucked into all the eco-friendly plastic free alternatives. It's amazing what you can live without sometimes. For example, one coffee cup is enough - not matter how pretty - and I really didn't need those metal straws I bought...
What easy steps can people begin taking now to start reducing their plastic use?
- Take your own shopping bag - even paper bags are hugely damaging to make with a high water cost.
- Take your own coffee cup (it can be used just as a water cup on the go too).
- Switch out your store bought water for taking your own water bottle (you'll save so much money).
- Switch to soap bars in the bathroom. If you can afford them BeautyKubes shampoo are amazing if not Faith by Nature do shampoo refills - see if you can find a refill store near you and keep reusing the same bottle.
- Buy loose vegetables - and buy in season!
- Keep having conversations! One of my favourite things about this challenge has been talking to people and I think a lot have been really interested in what we're doing. Even if they've not gone the whole way, they've started switching out the smaller things like water bottles and shopping bags
What are your favourite plastic free swaps?
I found some produce bags (I got mine from Booths but I know they’re only up north…) and I find it so satisfying filling them up with veg, taking them to the check out and having the conversation with the checkout lady about how great the bags are.
The milkman is also amazing - it’s like Christmas for adults. Milk, orange juice, eggs and butter all appear on our doorstep every week without any plastic. It’s such a treat. We feel good for supporting a local business too.
Hankies were a surprising favourite for me - it’s so much nicer blowing your nose on a cloth rather than tissue. All you do then is throw it in the wash. No waste product and it’s a wash we would be doing anyway with towels and bedding.